The reason why technology or science is talked about is not because it is an absolute truth, but rather because it generates interesting stories __ Song Ho-jun
The space objects now orbiting Earth range from satellites weighting several tons to pieces of spent rocket bodies weighing only 10 pounds.
The Space Surveillance Network has been tracking space objects since 1957 when the Soviet Union opened the space age with the launch of Sputnik. Since then, the SSN has tracked more than 24,500 space objects orbiting Earth. (See Helping Zimbabweans to steppe in sync and South Africa attempts to pull the plug on Zimbabwean satellite decoders)
It spot-checks them rather than tracking them continually. The enormous amount of tracking data comes from SSN sites such as Maui, Hawaii, Eglin, Florida, Thule, Greenland and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. The data is transmitted directly via satellite, ground wire, microwave and phone. Every available means of communications is used to ensure a backup is readily available if necessary.
Back in the 1950s, Sputnik was marked with a red flag that told America not to take its technological dominance for granted. It was orbiting the planet at 32,186.88 km per hour while emitting a constant radio signal. (See International day of human space flight in Harare)
The SSN currently tracks more than 8,000 orbiting objects. The rest have re-entered Earth’s turbulent atmosphere and disintegrated, or survived re-enty and impacted the Earth. About seven percent of the space objects are operational satellites, the rest are debris. The United States Strategic Command, STRATCOM, is primarily interested in the active satellites, but also tracks space debris. They also track space objects which are 10 centimeters in diameter (baseball size) or larger.
A pronouncing example of such small satellites is a homemade, basement-built satellite that a South Korean Song Ho-jun has been working on for nearly six years. An engineering student at university, Ho-jun built his $500 OpenSat to show people they could achieve their dreams. After working as an intern at a private satellite company, he came up with the idea for his “Open Satellite Initiative,” which in turn led him to contact space professionals from Slovenia to Paris.
The cubical OpenSat weighs 1kg and measures 10 cubic centimetres. It will transmit information about the working status of its battery, the temperature and rotation speed of the satellite’s solar panel. Radio operators will be able to communicate with the satellite. If all goes well, it will repeat a message in Morse code using its LED lights at a set time and location.
OpenSat’s components cost only 500,000 won ($440). But the cost for launching it hit 120 million won after Song signed a contract with NovaNano, a a Lyon-based aerospace company, which acted as a broker to arrange the launch, including submitting paperwork and finding a rocket.
The satellite will be launched from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan (the world’s first and largest operational space launch facility) in December. And one hopes that OpenSat will be luckier than NigComSat-1, the first African geosynchronous communication satellite. (See Adasia: untapping media markets in Central Asia) Launched on 13 May 2007, aboard a Chinese Long March 3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre (The Sichuan-based facility became operational in 1984 and is primarily used to launch powerful thrust rockets and geostationary communications and weather satellites), NigComSat-1 failed in orbit after running out of power in 2008 due to an anomaly in its solar array. (See From Geely in Ukraine to Chery in Zimbabwe: how many China’s global brands can you think of? and Africa-Asia prospects II: more solid research on Africa needed to inform Sino-African relations )
Historically, as space technology matured, satellites were launched for military and commercial purposes. The price of satellite launches has dropped to as low as a few million dollars for light satellites, and a few tens of millions for heavy satellites. This put satellite technology within the reach of many nations and international companies.
A host of commercial flight options to experience the space conditions is emerging. Zero Gravity Corporation (also known as ZERO-G), an Arlington, Virginia-based company, operates weightless flights from United States airports. Unlike NASA, ZERO-G is governed under Part 121 of FAA regulations (as are all US commercial passenger and cargo airlines) enabling the company to cater to both tourists and researchers alike. The company Sea Launch — a consortium of four companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway — has launched a few satellites into orbit from international waters every year.
Satellites have an operating lifespan between five and 20 years. As of 2008, the former Soviet Union and Russia had nearly 1,400 satellites in orbit, the USA about 1,000, Japan more than 100, China about 80, France over 40, India more than 30, Germany almost 30, the UK and Canada 25, and at least ten each from Italy, Australia, Indonesia, Brazil, Sweden, Luxembourg, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, and South Korea. (See I want my TV in Afghanistan and Turkey’s soap power)
Some satellites, called microsats, nanosats, or picosats, can be as small as 10 cm (3.937 inches) in diameter and 0.1 kg (0.22 pounds) in mass. The largest man-made satellite currently in orbit around the Earth is the International Space Station.
Enough about cold metal in the dark vacuum–we wonder have astronauts ever had sex in space?